The Antlers are a Brooklyn-based indie rock band best known for their intense 2009 opus “Hospice,” a concept album about a terminally ill child in a cancer ward. However, to label the group as “sad rock” would be to underestimate their talent.
Prior to “Hospice,” The Antlers was singer Peter Silberman’s solo project. He released an album and two EP’s of sparse acoustic folk before producing “In the Attic of the Universe,” an album that signaled his more epic, layered sounds to come. Multi-instrumentalist Darby Cicci and percussionist Michael Lerner joined Silberman as full-time members after those releases in 2007, filling out the band’s current lineup.
“Hospice” displayed a rare form of musical and conceptual ambition, and NPR named it the best album of 2009. Since then, their music has loosened up considerably, but heavy questions about life, death, and individual identity remain. 2011’s “Burst Apart” saw the band incorporate sleeker electronic sounds and more up-beat tempos, but stark pessimism and anger lurked in the lyrics.
The band’s latest album “Familiars” (Anti- Records, June 17, 2014) finds the group settling into a slower, more meditative groove, full of ambient horns, organs, and finger-picked electric guitar melodies. The songs aren’t too far removed from the heartbreak of “Hospice” and the desolation of “Burst Apart,” but the tone is certainly more hopeful. On the record’s second single “Hotel,” Silberman sings: “I rent a blank room to stop living in my past self.” (The album’s first single was “Palace,” released in March.)
The group embarked on a tour in June that will take them across the US, Canada, and Europe. Frontman and songwriter Peter Silberman spoke to the Forward about the band’s evolution and how his more optimistic spiritual philosophy made its way onto the new album.
GF: The band’s sound, although it’s been atmospheric for a while, seems even more expansive on “Familiars.” Has your songwriting and recording process changed for this album?
PS: Yeah, I’d say it changed for this record. Although I think it’s the natural evolution of what we’ve been doing for a few years. About 3 or 4 years ago we moved into our own studio in Brooklyn, right before we started working on “Burst Apart.” Since then we’ve taken on a new way of working. It was no longer just a bedroom project. In our own studio we were able to give the record the chance to really grow and for us to get familiar with engineering our own records in a more professional capacity.
“Familiars” has definitely been through more of a long gestating process. We worked on it for way longer than we worked on anything else. I think what made it different than the records that came before is that we had a long time to sit and contemplate it. That led to a lot of subtle differences, which are a little hard to put my finger on.